2020s, culture, education, In My Opinion, inspiration, movies

IMO: 20 Years Later

I feel a silver lining to the COVID experience is it has allowed me to stop the merry-go-round to pause, reflect, and prioritize. This has brought to the surface tapped down memories and feelings and discussions around the table. The not-so-good feelings, the spiders on the wall–my 4 D’s: delusion, denial, deprecation, and depression have followed me around all my life. Then there are the good parts of me, the virtues: initiative, perceptiveness, diligence, and loyalty. In short, at worst, I’m a neurotic dreamer. At best, in a past life, I was probably a dog. Ha!

One boring day, my daughter and I took a free Myers-Briggs personality test. I’m a BDNF. I’m rare, they said. I’m John Snow. An Eleanor Roosevelt. A Gandi. Wow. That’s flattering, but there’s guilt that I haven’t done much in light of their accomplishments. Except for John Snow. He was a boring character in Game of Thrones. I do feel, however, that in a past life I was Brienne of Tarth. Speaking of boredom, after ravishing through Season 4 of The Last Kingdom and gulping down Season 5 of Outlander, I decided to rewatch the GoT series when I couldn’t remember much of what happened in the first four seasons. I must say, I am having fun. During COVID, my time is spent babysitting, reading, writing, and researching. I need a bolt of fun in the evening. 

In the 1990s, when I was in my thirties and at college, I wanted to become a professor at the community college level. A professor warned me to get my teaching degree at the secondary level while I worked on my Master’s. He predicted the market would become saturated, and it would be tough to get a full-time position as a professor. “Everyone’s going to college. Those Ph.D. grads that don’t get hired at the university level? Guess what? The junior colleges pick them up, thus making a Master’s degree the value of a bachelor’s degree.” Well, he was right. Imagine being a single parent! Yikes! No wonder I was frazzled, and the 1990s and 2000s were a blur. My adult life is like Game of Thrones. I know I lived through it, but why can’t I remember anything? COVID allowed me to revisit the seasons to see if I held up over time. 

Still, I have taught at both levels simultaneously for twenty years. I’ve been a hole-filler adjunct since 2000. I’ve taught at the high school level since 1999. I didn’t want to be a high school teacher. But I did it. I have six more years to go. All my student loans will be paid off, and I can retire with a pension. I did not want to run this marathon race, but I’m almost at the finish line, and grand vacations await.

When you are “becoming” something, it’s easy to believe that it is your destiny. When you fall into a career you did not want, it is easy to believe you were shortchanged. After twenty years, it’s all okay. Once I was obtuse. Now it is clear that God wanted me to have this career because I am very good at it. Don’t ask me about the paradigm-shifting, acronym-gathering, administrative micro-managing parts of the profession. None of it bothers me anymore. I just smile and carry on. 

The time spent in seclusion has allowed me to feel grateful for my career. I feel the honor of getting to know the saintly students–those who will most likely succeed with the straightest trajectory, and the sandpaper students–those who have interesting personalities and circumvent the norm. My school asked teachers to create a short video message for the graduating seniors. Who knows what will happen to our school when we resume on August 1. I thought it might be interesting for you to see the real me and hear my voice. I may be getting old, but I’m safe. I’m one of the good guys, and I’ve got their backs. Hail, Brienne of Tarth!

2010s, culture, education, In My Opinion, inspiration, music

IMO: Teaching German with Songs and Pretzels

Guten Tag!

I have 90 German students this year. Like many World Language teachers, it’s a no-brainer to implement the song of the week. I picked Peter Fox’s “Haus um See”. Students get parallel texts and link favorite words or lines as a fun way to associate what they’ve learned in context. Educating aside, as a lover of music, I’m having a fun time finding new artists with catchy melodies and beautiful lyrics. Not only does Peter Fox’s song sound like a whimsical revisit to the 1960s, but the lyrics also describe his idea of the perfect life capturing like a snapshot with images in words.

Here I was born and I run through the streets
Know every house, every store, and every face
I need to leave; know every pigeon here by name
Thumb’s out, waitin’ for a snazzy lady with speedy wheels
The sun’s blinding, everything flies by
The world behind me gets slowly undersized
Still, the world in front of me is made for me
I know she’s waiting – I’ll go pick her up
Have the day on my side, got a tailwind too
A roadside women’s choir sings for me, they do
I’ll sit back and look into the deep blue
Close my eyes and simply walk straight ahead

And at the end of the lane, there’s a house by the lake
Orange tree leaves lay on the way
I have 20 children, my wife is beautiful
Everybody drops by, no need to go out

I’m looking for a country with unfamiliar lanes
Unfamiliar faces – where no one knows my name
Win everything I play with cards that are marked
Lose everything – God’s left hook is actually quite hard
I dig treasures from the snow and sand
And women rob me of any sense I have
Someday that luck will follow me home
And I’ll come back with both pockets full of gold
I’ll invite the old folks and relatives over
And they all begin to cry tears of joy
We’ll barbecue, the mamas cook, and we slam some schnapps
And party for a week every night

And the moon shines brightly on my house by the lake
Orange tree leaves lay on the way
I have 20 children, my wife is stout
Everybody drops by, no need to go out

Here I was born; here I’ll be buried
Have lost my hearing, have a white beard; I sit in the garden
My 100 grandkids play cricket on the lawn
If I think about it, I can actually hardly wait…

Haus Am See>House by the Lake

Hier bin ich gebor’n und laufe durch die Straßen!
Kenn die Gesichter, jedes Haus und jeden Laden!
Ich muss mal weg, kenn jede Taube hier beim Namen.
Daumen raus ich warte auf ‘ne schicke Frau mit schnellem Wagen.
Die Sonne blendet alles fliegt vorbei.
Und die Welt hinter mir wird langsam klein.
Doch die Welt vor mir ist für mich gemacht!
Ich weiß sie wartet und ich hol sie ab!
Ich hab den Tag auf meiner Seite ich hab Rückenwind!
Ein Frauenchor am Straßenrand der für mich singt!
Ich lehne mich zurück und guck ins tiefe Blau,
schließ die Augen und lauf einfach gradeaus.

Und am Ende der Strasse steht ein Haus am See.
Orangenbaumblätter liegen auf dem Weg.
Ich hab 20 Kinder meine Frau ist schön.
Alle kommen vorbei ich brauch nie rauszugehen.

Im Traum gesehen, das Haus am See

Ich suche neues Land
Mit unbekannten Strassen, fremden Gesichtern und keiner kennt meinen Namen!
Alles gewinnen beim Spiel mit gezinkten Karten.
Alles verlieren, Gott zeigt seinen harten linken Haken.
Ich grabe Schätze aus im Schnee und Sand.
Und Frauen rauben mir jeden Verstand!
Doch irgendwann werd ich vom Glück verfolgt.
Und komm zurück mit beiden Taschen voll Gold.
Ich lad’ die alten Vögel und Verwandten ein.
Und alle fang’n vor Freude an zu weinen.
Wir grillen, die Mamas kochen und wir saufen Schnaps.
Und feiern eine Woche jede Nacht.

Und der Mond scheint hell auf mein Haus am See.
Organgenbaumblätter liegen auf dem Weg.
Ich hab 20 Kinder meine Frau ist schön.
Alle kommen vorbei ich brauch nie rauszugehen.

Im Traum gesehen, das Haus am See

Und am Ende der Strasse steht ein Haus am See.
Organgenbaumblätter liegen auf dem Weg.
Ich hab 20 Kinder meine Frau ist schön.
Alle kommen vorbei ich brauch nie rauszugehen.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

Hier bin ich gebor’n, hier werd ich begraben.
Hab taube Ohr’n, nen weißen Bart und sitz im Garten.
Meine 100 Enkel spielen Cricket auf’m Rasen.
Wenn ich so daran denke kann ich’s eigentlich kaum erwarten.

Image result for pretzels

I was raised with the notion that a way to a man’s heart was through his stomach. To catch a man, it helps if you make him something delectable from scratch. It’s a perk in his estimation. Much the same way a man who can fix anything makes him more valuable. For example, my cooking helped Jim decide I was a worthy catch much as Jim being able to fix anything helped me decide I wanted to share my life with him. What is a good pair, after all, but the ability to share talents so that life is better for both parties? Okay, I digress.

Using this principle with teenagers, students discovered that making food with friends, and then eating it, is as much fun as any event they can think of. Yesterday, they made pretzels. At lunch, twenty German students were curious and stopped by my room. I set up workstations with the ingredients in the center. We had previewed the day before what was going to happen. They had their recipe. Many had no idea how to measure or follow a recipe. They thought it was fun to knead. Ah, the magic of yeast, warm milk, and a little sugar!

Covered in the corner of my room, the dough “babies” rose all afternoon. At 3:30, we took our bowls to the cafeteria where the school kitchen staff generously allowed us to complete the final steps. I ran the oven while students rolled out their dough into ropes and twisted into pretzel shapes. Then they dunked them in hot baking soda water, placed them on cooking sheets and sprinkled their creations with sea salt. Presto! Ten minutes later they were buttering and devouring them. “Das Smeckt gut!”

Making people happy with food may be called emotional eating, but I am of the mind it is celebrating life.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou

 

 

1990s, 2010s, culture, education, Illinois, In My Opinion, writing

IMO: Vivaldi’s Winter, The Four Seasons

Except for a small lamp, I am sitting in the dark and face the computer screen. It is four in the morning. I’m grading college English composition papers where students compared and contrasted Ulysses S. Grant to Robert E. Lee. After the fifteenth one, my mind wandered and entered that zone where it splits–one side hears music while the other grades. I lose myself. On Pandora, Vivaldi’s “Winter” from Four Seasons begins.

It occurred to me that it has been twenty years since I last listened to Vivaldi’s “Winter.” It was four in the morning. I lived in the wasteland of Illinois during winter. Icy, bitter below-zero cold. The stars flickered, the air crackled, and the sun rose and changed the black into a powder blue sky. The sun teased, but the hope of warmth would not come that day.

I drove ninety minutes from my hometown to Illinois State University. My teenage kids still slept. They would get themselves up and eat breakfast and cross the street to school without my orchestration. Excited was I to be in college, and I fell in love with academia. I was in my thirties at the time and amazed by how little I knew about everything–history, literature, classical music, art, architecture, foreign languages, philosophy, and geography. I was starving and ate it up.

There is nothing to look at during the winter in central Illinois. The corn fields have been harvested. The expanse and flatness and dingy colors combined with the cold temperatures–well, that’s why I live in Arizona now. Two decades ago, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons played in the car. The first cup of coffee had worn off, and I was in that lull where one part of me heard the music while another part drove.

How wonderful then, today at four in the morning, that a time warp occurred. “Winter” by Vivaldi began on Pandora and triggered that long ride to campus. I was that non-traditional student traveling distances to learn. This morning, I am the instructor on the other side of the desk, that is, the other side of the computer who grades the paper I once wrote. Tied by Vivaldi, the music became a mirror, and I sat on both sides and said “Hello.”